[WEBINAR] Going Viral: How Your Project Can Engage Thousands Online

people on devices taking online public engagement survey

What do the best public engagement projects have in common? Not all projects attract huge numbers of participants online, but it turns out that the ones that do all share some common characteristics. After reviewing hundreds of municipal, MPO, DOT and TPO projects, we have compiled a set of best practices as a guide for your next project.

This webinar explored case studies of planning projects with various transportation agencies that successfully used online technology to increase the reach of their public involvement efforts. Critical success factors, key strategies and best practices were shared and discussed.

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Below are some of the questions that were asked during the Q&A session at the end of the presentation.

Q: How do online surveys like MetroQuest deal with accessibility on plans – people with disabilities, people in rural areas without internet?
A: MetroQuest meets most accessibility requirements with its large fonts and clear graphics. Sometimes to accommodate people with vision impairment a parallel survey is offered as an option that presents the material in a text only version that a screen reader can read. In some cases a phone number or other open houses are offered for people who require one on one support. In order to provide as many options as possible, MetroQuest is also able to be offered in a paper-based format and we provide tools to help enter the paper responses into the database so they are all rolled up together.

With the growth in social networking and online shopping, rural residents are increasingly online and will happily participate in web-based surveys as a convenient option to travelling to a distant event. To add extra support for people in rural areas who do not have connectivity we have found that the kiosk in local stores or community centers work very well. In one project we engaged over 10% of the entire population of a region over a 4-week period using one well-placed kiosk in the main community center.

Q: How do you feel about Citizens Advisory Committees? Do you still see value in them or do these other methods provide better community input?
A: CAC’s can serve a different and valuable purpose compared with a broader survey of the general public. CAC’s attract people who are motivated and willing to roll up their sleeves and dig into topics as a deeper level than the general public. This gives you the opportunity to work with them to co-create solutions. We have found that CAC’s are most powerful when combined with the guidance of a broader survey of public opinion. This relates to our concept of Public Engagement 3.0 where we describe phased process of combining broad online engagement with face to face meetings. In the case of CAC’s, they fall into the category of the more detailed face to face engagement even though some CAC’s meet and collaborate online as well.

Q: How does MetroQuest deal with asking for people’s vision for a long range plan? Do you show trade-offs or is it more about a blank slate? Do you see value on showing the ‘level of effort’ to achieve a particular aspect of a vision?
A: This is a pretty big question which deserves more than a brief answer but I’ll do my best to begin the dialog. MetroQuest is frequently used for visioning projects. Each one is different so there is no “standard” way of dealing with them. Often visioning is the initial part of a larger process that rolls out in phases. We offer many screen types that have been used to suit the visioning activities of our clients including:

  • our “Vision Screen” which offers open-ended options for any idea participants wish to share,
  • our “Scenario Screen” which presents a series of alternatives tied to trade-offs and outcomes for their feedback, and
  • our “Map Input Screen” which allows people to be very specific about what they wish to see on a map of the area.

We are cautious to not carry too many preconceptions into those first conversations with clients as each situation is unique. I think in some cases showing “level of effort” is useful if there is a desire to constrain the visions and gather more informed input. In other cases visioning is being used as an engaging way to assess the broader priorities of the community and such constraints are not helpful. Often the best projects go in phases from the “anything’s possible” first phases to more discrete and constrained alternatives during latter phases.

Q: A lot of dense, creative material. What is a good strategy for a firm with limited resources? Also, some suggestions for getting up to speed on the tools, etc. that have been presented today?
A: Many thanks. We covered a great deal in 45 minutes and the questions that came in were great! Online engagement is a great option for projects with limited budgets since the ROI is so high relative to more labor intensive face to face engagement. Most projects still have at least one face to face session but many choose to scale back on them as they achieve broader engagement online.

If you would like to learn more about MetroQuest please get in touch. One of our Engagement Specialists will be happy to help. It is useful to note that MetroQuest does much of the heavy lifting for you so the learning curve is less of an issue compared with other “set it up yourself” software. We will sit down with your team, learn about your needs and then recommend an approach. Once we settle on something that resonates, we give you a check list of content that is needed, typically words and images. Once we get that content from you we will do the work to create the tool for you and get it ready for your review. The process does not require many technical skills on your end so getting up to speed is easy.

Q: Regarding the examples you showed today: Was the engagement done in multiple phases, or a single outreach campaign?
A: Three of the five examples we highlighted included two or more phases of public engagement. MetroQuest screens can be easily swapped in and out to adapt to the different needs of each phase of your public engagement process. Many projects take advantage of that capability as the public becomes accustomed to using the software and they can easily see how input from the previous phases is being used in subsequent phases as the project moved towards a final plan.

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